Social Experiment : Do we need a Scrum Master in a self organising team?
 

In a typical agile team, the scrum master is the coordinator/facilitator who makes everything going in the team properly. However, when the team is highly self-organising, do we even need a facilitator? We have a detailed post on the role of a scrum master here.

We have asked this question to a group of experts in different social forums and we have received around 1200+ responses. Here is a quick stats around the same.

  • 9% feels we don’t need scrum master at all.
  • 14% believes that the SM is a full-time role.
  • Rest 77% strongly believes that full-time SM is effective in the start, or in an immature team.

This survey reflects what we have observed in our agile projects.

When we are building a team or team is immature(staffing changes etc), we need SM to help and coach the team by asking right questions.  As the team grows up in maturity, the individual team members know how to organize themselves and hold each other accountable. This is one of the important reason why SM role becomes redundant after some time. And this is also the reason why organizations prefer to hire technical people who can play scrum master role. But in order to attain this maturity, the team members will have to be open for new learnings and continually improve.

Here we have picked some (not limited to) of the comments from the experts we did experiment with. The question being asked was

Do we really need a scrum master in Scrum project? If so, does it have to be full time? Isn’t self-organizing team killing the concept of SM? 

Comments from experts

1. Yes….as much it seems like an oxymoron to have both concepts in concert with each other, you need to have the “check and balance system” embodied by having a separate SM from the team. The team is made up of humans, who are fallible and will attempt to take shortcuts over time. The SM is a check against the scrum team’s desire to “get things done” and circumvent the scrum process.

2. Ideally any team member can be called as a Scrummaster. I can only call the SM designated as a process expert contributor.
The key responsibilities certainly needs a defined role to drive it so it reduces the burden on either the Manger or team.

Also , with value and business ask in mind its challenging for the Manager to inspire, create value, and follow the princple 5 ” build projects across motivated indivduals and trust them that the job can be done” whilst if it can be done, it can be tried out.

3. Scrum is a smallish change to jow people work. 5 hours a week. That said…if you’re running scrum in a not friendly to agile work environment….scrum is essential. However, if you’ve got a long term agile team, whose environment lets them work, the role is less necessary.

Really…the scrum master role as practiced is NOT about scrum, but rather about making the team work effectively together. Once that’s good…?

The XP model creates agile team functionality differently, by shifting work patterns for 35 hours a week, rather than scrums 5 hour change. Honestly, that changes team culture far faster than scrum, and the tech practices shops dont find the role necessary.

Without a deep established culture or hardcore paired-tdd-ci practices, you want a scrum master.

4. Real professionals don’t need a SM. It will save them time.

5.  Once the team is self reliant, scrum masters role becomes redundant.. Either scrum master has to be one of the tech leads or a contractual role to train the teams.

6. Looking at this link, we need SM to fix these scenarios.

7. That depends on the nature of the project. If it is a fairly large sized project with multiple dependent upstream and downstream systems, there would be a fair amount of communication and coordination required. This should happen before, during and after sprint planning. Team members do not need to worry about all these administrative work. They can concentrate on actual tasks. Also, in my personal experience, however well planned you are, things do not go smooth as planned. In that case, there is a need to capture details around any delays by our own team or any other dependent systems and review and revise the integration tests, release plans, deploys to higher environments and finally present the cost of delay and value being delivered to business. This is all just a few tasks for an SM when the project is fairly large sized with up/downstream dependencies. Other typical tasks include, communications with end users whenever required, challenging and motivating teams, conducting team building activities which helps team not only build relationships but provides some relief from day to day and hour to hour work.

8. However mature teams are, if a candid discussion happens during grooming, planning team members need someone else to facilitate their conversations, disagreements and help them come to an agreement. SM can apply various techniques in these situations and it would be totally unreasonable to expect a participant team member to play that facilitator role and be neutral (just not practical)

9. I’ve had the great pleasure to work with many different teams across many organization types, development processes, and industries. Whenever a team loved Scrum Masters, it was because the Scrum Masters were properly performing their role and getting things done, removing road blocks for the team, facilitating effective meetings and conversations, and so much more.

All of the projects I’ve been on where there was no formal Scrum Master role were teams that had one at one point, but dropped them because they were not effective. They blamed the role instead of the individual.

Find effective Scrum Masters and hold them accountable just as you would any other team member. If they aren’t getting the job done for you, find one that will!

10. When a team is mature enough, this is true that need for a Scrum Master is over.
If the team is self-organizing, cross-functional and respects naturally Scrum ceremonies ; if communication with the PO is smooth, there is no misunderstandings, it means that a Scrum Master would be superfluous.
On top of that, the role of Scrum Master still exists: the difference is that it is endorsed by team members, with no prior assignation, but spontaneously, depending on the context.

11. The need of a SM depends on the tasks that he performs. So whether a SM will be required or not will be determined by the availability of resource to perform that role. So if there are skilled resources who is available to perform those tasks then I think the need for SM is already fulfilled.

12. Although SM role is critical but if thats the case all the times it means your team in not improving. If the team is improving, you need to assign other work to SM (Assign other projects, ask to contribute on technology, design etc). If that is not happening, you should plan to bring new SM.

13. Scrum master is ‘Servant Leader’ in practice. Which means he/she has to adapt to leadership style based on ‘Team’ is at what stage. Whether ‘Forming’, ‘Storming, ‘ Norming’ or ‘Performing’. Once the team reaches ‘Performing’, SM job becomes redundant. And at ‘Adjourning’ the last stage SM is no more needed team to do its function effectively, independent and consistent performance. At this SM would also reach its peak of leadership ‘Pinnacle’.

14. A team can gel despite all kinds of organizational impediments to agility. The SM is not obsolete until those impediments are identified and addressed effectively.

15. For a program with multiple streams and releases, a dedicated SM is more or less a necessity. With obvious(more) focus during the initial stages, the SM involvement can reduce as the team imbibes the mindset that is expected of a proper self organised team. He or she will ideally bring in the culture that sets the team on the progressive path

16.  A dedicated Scrum Master is not needed in a Performing team. However, it is frequently the case that a team degrades over time after the Scrum Master leaves – so unless the team is able continuously keep focus on improving they might at least need regular check-ins from an agile coach (could be an actual agile coach or a leader in the organization or a Scrum Master from another team).

17. I don’t think need of SM can be completely eliminated, whether it is performing team or not as there are lot of things SM take care of such as improvement in processes, removing impediments, taking care of backlog, running sprint etc.

Someone from team should not be SM as this is independent role and it has to be a specialist for the job.

18. A team does not mature takes the time to mature. In a mature team, Scrum Master may not require, so a lot of other things e.g. sprint planning and refinement sessions merging, On demand retro instead of one retro per sprint, time boxing of sprint ( may be kanban), etc.

19. I don’t think the role of SM can be completely eliminated and not at least until the team is mature enough to identify impediments and able take actions to remove them or retrospect themselves. Yes, it would be a good idea to have a team member with willing to serve as SM as well, but that should happen at a later stage only as in SCRUM SM is a separate entity and can be supposed to serve multiple teams at the same time.

20. I think a SM is need at the start of the POD, but as stated above once the team starts moving and has proved they can produce and become self serving then the SM has be become obsolete. Now this can only happen if your product owner and B.A. are in tuned with the POD.

21. Instead of picking SM from outside, you can identify a good fit for this role within team and keep rotating. This would certainly increase your chances of getting better results and at the same time you are helping you team member to play interesting role who aspire to get into management.

Why sprint success is important
 

In Agile environment, some of the committed stories may not be completed at the end of the iteration. For example, in Scrum, the stories roll to the next sprint. There could be various reasons why some of the stories could not be achieved. Reasons include (not limited to) blockers, inefficiency, improper sync between team members, missing clarity, support from other teams, priority etc. A casual look on this can make someone think this is normal. But sprint success has a huge impact on the long term success of the team and the product.

Fig: Success

Following are the some of the reasons why sprint success is important.

  • Morale : The team members self esteem actually gets higher when they achieve their goal. This breads confidence and help them to get better a their game, which can lead to more success.

  • Habit: Success breads happiness and more success. At the same time, failure breads failure. Also success/failure on one aspect of life can cause ripple effect on the rest of the life. We should be focused on success on every aspect of life so that it can bread in to itself.

Fig: Habit Loop

  • Fine reputation: More than any thing else, team will be very proud when they are able to successfully achieve the sprint goals consistently. Their reputation and respect around the company can actually go up and they will have to live up to that standard.

  • High standards: Team starts to set higher standard for themselves when they have high reputation. This helps them to get better at questioning, coding, testing, deploying and showcasing etc and improves their living standards in a holistic way.

  • Team bonding: When the team have a standard to live up to, they come together and get the things done, keeping aside the petty things. The goal becomes  bigger than individuals and  deliver thing as a team. This leads to higher team bonding and it reinforces their standards, reputation, habit and morale.

These are some of the main reasons why sprint success is important. When we focus on success, more positive things happen to the team and to the product that they work on.

Self Organizing teams
 

We all hear that Agile teams need to be self-organized. However there is not enough talked about what it means by self-organized. In this article, we will discuss the various qualities of self-organized teams.

  • High levels of personal responsibility

Self-organized team members are highly responsible individuals. They value the importance of their contribution to the overall success of the project. Because of this they do things on time, be available, and develop great relationship with other team members. When things are not happening as required, they take responsibility and do their part to get things done.

  • Put team first Team work
Team work

Being organized also mean being able to see the bigger picture. Self-organized team members always put team before them. Individuals have great respect for a combined democratic team decision than an ego-centric decision.

  • Openly ask and provide help Help me
Help me

Everyone is a learner and beginner before being an expert. So self-organized team help other team members for their short comings and also openly ask for help. They coach their fellow members and give them time to improve. As there are no shaming/blaming any one can ask for help without fear of being criticized.

  • Hold each other accountable
Pointing the finger

Pointing the finger

Self-organized teams are mostly a closed group and they have high levels of emotional security with each other. So they “call spade a spade” openly and bring up crucial topics and iron them out sooner. This not only happens at the same org level but they have no fear to hold a superior accountable.

  • High standards Its a Promise
Its a Promise

They agree upon nothing less than the best. Team members agree on a common set of standards which they continuously improve. They seek advice from industry veterans, architects, managers and anyone who can help improve themselves and the team.

  • NO managers required

They understand the strength and weakness of not only themselves but also other fellow team members. By respectfully and openly talking and holding each other accountable, team gets better at their game. Also self-organizing teams pick and choose who gets into their team. They often interview new individuals and sets very high expectations from the day one. Instead of managers, self-organized teams rather require a coach who will guide them from outside.

  • Highly mature

Maturity not only comes with age, but also with the company of highly mature individuals. Self-reinforcement of high standards and accountability makes them mature and the team members self-esteem is often very high.

  • Enjoy the company

Last but not the least, self-organized team enjoy their time together. They combine specific business meetings at various places where they enjoy the time and at the same time business gets done. They make fun, laugh, and merry together so that life becomes less stressful.